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Small group leads big solar projects at Kansas church

Village Presbyterian Church outfits several facilities with solar as part of broader Creation care work

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Solar panels on the roof of Village Church Child & Family Development Center in Overland Park, Kansas. (Photo courtesy of Village Presbyterian Church)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The numbers are kind of eye-popping.

  • A total of 207 solar panels installed over four phases in as many years
  • They generate 64.575 kilowatts of power
  • 364 megawatt-hours of energy annually
  • That offsets 70.33 tons of carbon or 1624 trees.

The solar panel project at Village Church Child & Family Development Center in Overland Park, Kansas is a head-turning endeavor for a church, but not surprising when considering other environmentally conscious projects Village Presbyterian Church in neighboring Prairie Village has undertaken over the years.

Village’s first solar panel project was in 2007, when it put them on its food pantry and the church also had a hand in solar installations on several buildings at Heartland Center Camp in Parkville, Missouri, a half-hour northwest of the church.

The church has been involved in numerous environmentally conscious projects including installing motion-sensitive lights at its main campus, installing electric car charging stations at the pantry, incorporating Creation care into youth education (children made “turn off the lights” signs for Advent), having electronics recycling, installing a pollinator garden, and other endeavors. On its Facebook page this past month, the church has a series of videos with members talking about their commitments to environmental care and it presented a series of lectures on “Just Creation” by the Rev. Dr. William P. Brown of Columbia Theological Seminary.

For 11 years, Village has been a certified Earth Care Congregation (ECC) by the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and members have been actively involved with Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC), a para-church organization. It was at a PEC conference that church member Al Pugsley got the idea to fund solar panels at churches.

“My whole concept was the fact that churches don’t get any tax credits for installing solar,” said Pugsley, a member of Village’s Environmental Action Committee. “Homeowners do. Our companies do. So the whole idea was to help these facilities go green where they didn’t want to spend the money out of their normal budget to do that.”

Pugsley has helped fund solar panel projects at churches as far away as Hawaii. Most of them have been Presbyterian churches, addressing one of the major concerns many churches and other institutions have about solar power: the up-front cost.

In addition to donors like Pugsley, Presbyterians can look to programs such as a Restoring Creation Loan from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, which supports efforts to make church buildings more energy efficient with projects such as high-efficiency HVAC and roofing systems, insulation and solar panels. In addition to Pugsley’s funding, Village had several fund-raising campaigns for the solar endeavors, raising more than $145,000 from around 30 families over the course of the project.

“There’s a well-known quote by Margaret Mead about the power of a few dedicated individuals, and I think that’s what we have here,” said EAC member Jerry Rees. “Our Environmental Action Committee is maybe 10 people or less. A lot of people are aware. Not everybody, but I think there are kindred spirits. They may not share our sense of urgency, but they’re aware and they kind of support our efforts.”

Pugsley has a deep interest in environmental responsibility having, among other things, converted a Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck to electric power in 2006. One of the Village EAC’s annual events is an electric and hybrid car expo in its parking lot.

To members of Village Presbyterian Church’s Environmental Action Committee, the benefits to Earth care work are multifaceted. (Photo courtesy of Village Presbyterian Church)

To Pugsley and Rees, the benefits to the Earth care work are multifaceted, from the financial benefits of not having to pay for electricity and therefore funding other work to decreasing demand for fossil fuels needed to generate electricity, which inevitably benefits the environment and people.

“I think it was four summers ago, we had two youth interns, Earth-care youth interns,” Rees said. “And they came up with a survey. And one of the surprising results of that survey was the answer to the question, ‘do you think people will be attracted to a church that involves Earth care in its mission and ministry?’ And 85% responded yes. That blew me out of the water that many would believe that.”

Jessica Maudlin, Associate for Sustainable Living and Earth Care Concerns for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said, “More and more we hear this from congregations. Caring for the Earth and then making public outward demonstrations, like installing solar panels, tells a broader audience an important truth about the values of your congregation, even if you haven’t spoken to them. Congregations that are vital are ones that are engaging the community around them. There have been times in the history of people of faith that evangelism and justice issues have been seen or engaged in as separate tasks but we know that justice is Good News!”

The activities of the Village church have rubbed off, with members doing things like installing solar panels on their own homes, buying electric cars and engaging in similar activities. Still in the offing for the church is solar panels at the main campus and electric charging stations.

The EAC members suggest churches that might want to install solar or in other ways get involved in Earth care can start with looking for resources from the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Presbyterians for Earth Care, as well as organizations such as Interfaith Power & Light and trusted potential community partners. Whatever churches or individuals do, they say it is important they do something.

“We need to take action now to save humanity, as far as having a livable planet,” Pugsley says. “The planet will continue, but the humans will not when we don’t have a food source, we don’t have an energy source. Get on the bandwagon.”

Give to One Great Hour of Sharing to support the Presbyterian Hunger Program in its work to alleviate hunger and eliminate its root causes.

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